Great Fall Getaway: Portsmouth, NH
Here in the Northeast, we’re already noticing the shadows getting longer, the nights cooler, and, of course, the kids are getting ready to head back to school. But rather than mourn summer’s end, we’re getting psyched for… you got it… leaf-peeping season!
My wife and I just got back from a weekend “escape from New York” to one of our favorite New England destinations, and I realized that Budget Travelers need to know: Portsmouth, New Hampshire, belongs on your autumn to-do list.
We loved our stay at The Port Inn, an Ascend Hotel Collection Member, part of the Choice Hotels International family (late October weekday stays from $149/night, 505 U.S. Highway 1 Bypass, Portsmouth, NH 03801, 603-436-4378, portinnportsmouth.com), and it’s really an ideal base of operations for enjoying peak foliage season on the New Hampshire coast (approximately late October to early November). The Port Inn is one of the longest-operating lodgings in the Portsmouth area, combining the homey welcome of a family-run hotel with beautifully appointed furniture and fixtures thanks to a recent renovation. Waking up to the delicious complimentary hot breakfast (including excellent, locally roasted White Heron coffee) felt downright indulgent.
We really enjoyed exploring Portsmouth’s downtown, which includes cobblestone streets and a historic wharf and must-sees like the John Paul Jones House, the preserved colonial buildings at Strawberry Banke, and the exceptional Riverrun bookstore. We’re also big fans of Portsmouth’s Flatbread Pizza, where you can watch your meal cook in an open wood-fire oven, and New Hampshire’s short-but-sweet 18 miles of coastline, especially Odiorne Point State Park and its kid-friendly Seacoast Science Center. In fall, don’t miss the Inland River & Fall Foliage Cruise for a unique way to experience the vibrant New England colors.
Portsmouth's Port Inn was such a good experience, I looked into other Ascend Hotel Collection properties, which manage to combine an upscale lodging experience with authentic local flavor (not always easy to do) in prime leaf-peeping territory: They include the Hotel North Woods, Lake Placid, NY; and the Port Inn, Kennebunk, Maine.
Never Mind Mardi Gras. This Month New Orleans Is One Big Dinner Party
When it comes to world-class culinary destinations in America, few cities beat New Orleans. From its longstanding iconic temples of dining to contemporary eateries that offer new spins on the city’s traditional fare, the biggest challenge of a visit to the Bayou is choosing where to dine. But throughout the month of August, restaurants are offering unbeatable prix-fixe meals as part of COOLinary Summer in New Orleans. Some of the city’s –if not the country’s—most acclaimed restaurants are rolling out the red carpet with two- and three-course lunch menus for $20 or less and three-course dinner menus for $39 or less. A few eateries are going all out and offering brunch, too. Among the dozens of restaurants, primarily in the French Quarter and Downtown, are fine-dining stalwarts, like Arnaud’s, Galatoire’s and the renowned Commander’s Palace, as well as plenty of modern locales, like Cafe Adelaide and the Swizzle Stick Bar and Carrollton Market. So whether you're already a fan or still have the city on your bucket list, off-season in New Orleans, away from the maddening crowds of Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, is a fine time to head down and see why people call New Orleans "America’s Most Delicious City.”
"Secret Menus" of America's Favorite Fast Food Joints
"Off the menu" has an elegant ring to it, no? We associate the phrase with high rollers and celebs who are certain the chef has something up his or her sleeve that they're not broadcasting to the world. Well, it turns out you don't have to be on the A-list to order off the menu—and you don't have to be dining at a white tablecloth joint to make special requests. Our friends at Foursquare have compiled tips left by their users—always a great resource for real-life feedback—about some of America's favorite off-the-menu orders from affordable, quality chain restaurants. From imaginative and messy riffs on burgers to unusual twists on pizza, sandwiches, and burritos, there's a little something here for everyone. IN-N-OUT BURGER, a regional chain in Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, and Utah, has a devoted following for its better-than-fast-food burgers. Foursquare user Jessica says, "It's not on the menu, but they'll substitute a veggie burger if you ask!" Nick recommends, "Ask for your burger Animal Style [with extra spread, pickles, and grilled onions]. Not on the menu, but the only way to go." And Andy says, "Get the 'grilled cheese' off the secret menu." M BURGER, in Chicago, offers its own "secret menu," too. Samantha says to order "Doctor Betty! Beef burger with avocado, tomato, and pepper jack cheese." Mikinzie says, "Try the cheese frieds with jalapeños on the secret menu. You won't regret it." TORCHY'S TACOS, in Texas, has a following statewide and beyond. Bryan recommends "Go for the Ace of Spades on the secret menu. Sausage, brisket, cheese, queso, Diablo sauce, sour cream and a fried egg. It made me a believer." Marc says, "LOVED The Matador." Nick insists, "Order the Hillbilly. You won't regret it." UMAMI BURGER, with locations in California, Illinois, Nevada, and New York, also boasts a secret menu. "Must order their cheesy tots and truffle fries," says Betty. Rameen recommends, "Spicy Bird (turkey burger)." JAMBA JUICE, with 800 locations in 26 state, the Bahamas, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, and South Korea, helped jump-start the smoothie worldwide. It continues to delight the taste buds with off-the-menu specialities. "The Pink Star is my favorite," says April. "It tastes like a pink Starburst. Ingredients: lemonade, soymilk, raspberry sherbert, frozen yogurt, sorbet, and fresh strawberries." Continuing the candy-flavored theme, Alex says, "Ask for the White Gummy Bear. So good." FOOSACKLEY'S, a local chicken restaurant with locations across coastal Alabama, offers some tasty variations you must be in-the-know to ask for. "It's not on the menu, but try a Buf-foo-lo Chicken Sandwich. It's chicken dipped in buffalo sauce, topped with ranch on a bun. Delicious!" says Whitney. "For a vegetarian option, or just a tasty alternative, try the Grilled Cheese! It's not on the menu, but it is worth ordering! And to spice it up, try dipping it in ranch! Mmmmm!!" says Brandon. PAPALOTE MEXICAN GRILL, with two locations in San Francisco, includes a Super Adobo chicken burrito you won't find on the menu, according to Foursquare user The Feast. PANERA BREAD, with locations across the U.S. and Canada, will serve up a Steak and Egg Protein Bowl with onions and cheese if you ask them to, says Dee. MELLOW MUSHROOM, with locations across the U.S., mostly in the Southeast, includes some surprising pizza options that only insiders know. "Ask for the Maui Wowie pizza," says Jhim. "Pesto sauce, mozzarella, banana peppers, pineapple, jerk chicken, ham & bacon. Heaven!" Johanna says, "Order a chicken Caesar pizza. It's not on the menu, but they'll still make it and it's awesome!"
The "Brexit" May Mean It's Time for Americans to Visit the U.K.
Putting aside the emotional roller coaster and the inevitable stock market roller coaster induced by Britain's vote to leave the European Union (52 percent "leave" vs. 48 percent "stay"), it's perfectly acceptable to ask, "How does the move affect travelers?" In the near term, the British pound has plummeted to a 30-year low against the dollar. You can purchase pounds for about $1.34 as we're going to press. Analysts are predicting that, barring some change in Britian's decision, the pound may lag for a decade. That means that a notoriously city like London may be within reach of American travelers, or anyone else in possession of U.S. dollars to exchange for pounds. Similarly, the Euro has slid on the news, reaching a low of $1.09, suggesting that summer travel to the Continent may be a smart move as well. Less immediate, but a significant concern, is that travel from the U.K. to Europe will change along with Britain's status, requiring the renegotiation of deals by popular budget air carriers. It's too soon to tell all the major changes coming our way, but as of this morning, reports in the U.K. press, including the Guardian and Times, suggest bargains await. Of course, Budget Travel loves the U.K. and wishes its people well during this turbulent period!
Three-Day Weekend: Norway
This is, undeniably, the most beautiful place I’ve ever used a toilet. I should probably explain: In Norway, I often find myself uttering variations of “this is the most beautiful _______ I’ve ever seen.” But after years of exploring my ancestral homeland, I never thought I’d say it in a bathroom. It’s a nice side effect of the country’s oil-funded Tourist Route system, an ambitious program pairing Norway’s top architects with the country’s most scenic drives to design overlooks and bridges (nasjonaleturistveger.no). Their genius is also applied to roadside rest stops. Widely hailed as one of earth’s most stunning places—especially if you gawk at natural beauty—Norway’s fjord country has also been one of the most expensive to visit. But thanks to a surging U.S. dollar, plunging oil prices, and direct cheap flights on Norwegian Air, this year is the perfect time to see Norway at a discount (fares from $249, norwegian.com). With so much to explore, the best plan is to see Bergen…and then get the heck out of town, driving through fjord country and hitting every scenic view you can. Soaking in Norway’s Seattle Small enough to see in a day, yet chock full of great neo-Nordic cuisine, culture, and postcard-everywhere-you-look scenery, rain-drenched Bergen always reminds me of the Pacific Northwest, starting with its music. Norwegian acts aren’t quite household names, but the local scene has an impressive range, from Röyksopp (electronic pop) and Enslaved (black metal) to Sondre Lerche (singer/songwriter) and Ylvis (“What Does the Fox Say?”), all the descendants of classical icon Edvard Grieg, who play in small venues like Bergen Kjött (a meat market turned art gallery/concert venue, bergenkjott.no) and the adjacent large stage and intimate club setting at Lille Ole Bull (olebullhuset.no). I know this sounds touristy, but I can’t visit Bergen without walking through the colorful wharf buildings of the Bryggen, a UNESCO World Heritage site and 14th-century trading center. Dodging the relentless drizzle, I ducked into the expansive Bergen Art Museum ($12, kodebergen.no), then hit the vintage shops and cafés along pedestrianized Skostredet. They aren’t cheap, but Nordic standouts Restaurant 1877, renowned for its seasonal, local organic produce (from about $64 for a three-course meal, restaurant1877.no), and weather-inspired seafood perfectionist Cornelius (from about $48 for a two-course meal, corneliusrestaurant.no), complete with boat trip to its own island, compare to the best dining experiences I’ve had in any city, from New York to Copenhagen. To give your credit card a break, Marg og Bein’s award-winning local seafood (entrées from about $20, marg-bein.no) and Bare Vestland’s delicious Norwegian “tapas,” craft beers, and the best bread and butter you’ll have in your life (dishes from about $5, barevestland.no) offer quality far beyond their price. Once the weather cleared, I dropped everything to hop on the Flöibanen funicular up Mount Flöyen for a panoramic view of the city, fjord, and surrounding mountains (round-trip ticket about $11, floyen.no). Driving a Fjord It contradicts everything said about traveling in Norway, but I rented a car. Yes, gas is expensive, but with a scenic view better than the last around every bend, I needed to explore on my own. My first stop was Naeröyfjord, the narrowest fjord in the world, with 5,000-foot-high snow-capped peaks plunging almost vertically into blue-green water just 750 feet across at its tightest point. This UNESCO World Heritage site is best seen from the water (I opted for a kayak, but there’s also a ferry) or hiking along the 600-year-old Postal Path. Tunneling under the mountain took me to Flam, a town best known for a railway repeatedly voted most scenic in the world (tickets from about $42, visitflam.com). This hour-long train ride, switchbacking 3,000 feet up the mountainside past a dozen waterfalls, is a must-see. But so, on the way out of town, is the toilet at Stegastein—even if I didn’t need to go. A Tourist Route overlook, this doozy of a loo peeks over the cliff’s edge, thousands of feet above Aurlandsfjord, offering a private, scenic view. There’s precious little to do in Fjaerland, and that’s why this 300-resident hamlet is one of my favorite spots on Earth. The sleepy streets in town are dotted with tiny bookshops (some just shelves with an honor-system cashbox); above town in summer they’re lined with the sweetest raspberries I’ve ever tasted. Adding to its air of fairytale perfection, the only real lodging option, Hotel Mundal, celebrating its 125th birthday this year, is almost ridiculously quaint and furnished with family antiques (from about $163 per night, hotelmundal.no). The toughest part was finding any motivation to go anywhere else. Journeying through the Land of Glass and Ice Just outside town, I stopped by the Norwegian Glacier Museum (admission about $15, english.bre.museum.no) to join a trek on—and in—nearby Jostedalsbreen, Europe’s largest glacier, its arms still grinding inexorably down at a rate of six feet a day (hikes from about $33, jostedal.com). For more midsummer snow, Stryn Summer Ski Centre offers the rare chance to rocket down a 900-foot ski slope in nothing but skis and shorts (about $15 for one trip down, about $45 for one-day access, strynsommerski.com). The nearby town of Geiranger, another UNESCO site often called the “most beautiful place on earth,” offers hiking, kayaking, and ferry rides past waterfalls plunging thousands of feet from impossibly perched cliff-top summer farms straight into Geirangerfjord. Driving up the Valldalen valley, I passed through the spectrum of Norwegian ecosystems (fjord, forests, farmland, alpine meadows, arctic mountain peaks) and history (centuries-old farms and grass-roofed cabins to the new modern visitor center at Trollstigen Pass), seeing the country’s highlights in just 20 miles. My vote for most scenic of all Tourist Route overlooks, Trollstigen, or “Troll’s Ladder,” is a favorite spot for BASE jumpers. I watched jumpers in wingsuits plunge past the buses that climb the hairpin turns, as they tried to get close enough to almost touch one without dying. Doubling back down Valldalen, I found an understated architectural marvel: Juvet Landscape Hotel, a scattering of glass-walled cabins and spa unobtrusively perched among birch trees over a rushing mountain river (from about $190 per night, juvet.com). (If it looks familiar, you’ve seen the movie Ex Machina.) Built by the architectural firm Jensen og Skodvin without blasting rock or cutting trees, the cabins have dark walls, sparse furniture, no TVs, and no curtains—ensuring there was nothing to distract from the most impossibly perfect view I’ve ever had from a hotel room. Do I really have to leave?